Whew. This last year—Flow’s 6th—was a lot. Pandemic. Politics. Climate. Politics. Economy. Emerging from the pandemic.
As is the tradition, let us look back upon the last year of Flow.
Facts About Flow
Flow is a virtual, fee-only financial-planning firm that specializes in women in their early-to-mid-career in tech, with, to quote our revamped website, “expertise in pre-IPO and IPO planning and not making people feel bad about their finances.”
- We’re now a team of four: Janice (Client Services Associate), Yerim (Associate Planner), Maddie (Lead Planner), and me (Lead Planner and Founder).
- We have 54 ongoing clients. Two more are slated to start in June.
- We’re currently taking new clients, but the pace is slow. The demand is definitely there. We’ve had a waitlist of some shape for the last 3 years, continuously. We’re growing slowly by intention, due to:
- my fundamental conservatism. I would rather “die by starvation than indigestion.”
- an almost-fearful obsessive need to ensure we’re never “slipping” in our service to our existing clients
- a desire to have a robust life outside of work (for all team members)
- With Maddie’s elevation to Lead Planner, our ability to serve more clients should grow in the next year. Which is really exciting!
Our #1 Focus = An Active Shift from The Meg Show to…wait for it…The Flow Show
Of necessity, the Business of Flow was really the Business of Meg for the first several years. That was fine. I’m a good financial planner, and the team we’ve had for a few years now has helped serve many clients during some very demanding times of their lives.
But my vision for the firm has gotten clearer over the last year or two. The vision is two-fold:
- Serve more—and more diverse—women in their early-to-mid career in tech.
- Provide more opportunities in the financial planning profession to people who haven’t been represented in the profession historically.
Accomplishing each of those goals requires that Flow be more than a cult of Meg’s personality (as charming as my personality might be). Flow has to have more lead planners, so we can serve more women in tech. Flow has to grow in order to provide opportunities for people getting into financial planning.
So while I will continue, for a while, to be the most visible member of Flow (largely because I’m Loud), we have made intentional choices to enable us to offer a team-oriented approach.
Standardized Our Processes
I think we’ve always been pretty good at standardizing what we could as we went along. This last year supercharged this focus.
During this last year, we have done a lot (I’m talking a lot, people) of work on this. We did it in part to ensure that, once we moved to a multi-planner team, we could be sure that our clients would get a consistent and robust experience no matter who is leading the experience.
- We introduced Surge meetings (Flow style). I’m chewing on the idea of writing about our experience with Surge at Flow because we don’t have your “stereotypical” retiree clients. Our clients are “in the thick of it” with their lives. Stuff comes up alllll the time. Perhaps our biggest value to clients is simply being there when they need us, not according to our schedule.
- We have more workflows set up in our CRM than you can shake a stick at. Leaving a job. Starting a job. Donating stock to a charity. Opening and funding a DAF. Having a baby. Death in the family.
- We have spreadsheet calculators for all sorts of common client needs. How much should I contribute to my 401(k) now that I’ve changed jobs? How much house can I afford? I got a raise; how much more should I save now?
- We have templates for the preparation and agenda for every kind of meeting.
Overhauled Our Website
We overhauled our website in Fall 2021. It was 5.5 years old. It was time.
Our conscious design choice was: Primary focus = women in tech. Secondary focus = Team.
“Meg” should not stand out above the other team members (though I suspect Maddie and Janice literally took a step back, making me look gigantic—these shoulders don’t need any help looking broad, ladies!— for the one team photo on the website. Ha!)
Hired Another Team Member (Yerim)
We hired Yerim as our new Associate Planner in February.
Not only is she fulfilling the stereotypical role of bringing all sorts of new tech ideas to The Olds in our firm, she has learned an amazing amount from the firehose of information we’ve directed her way in the last 2.5 months.
We are now a team with a member in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. And let me tell you, the age diversity is obvious in the knowledge, perspective, and skills we bring to the table. It’s really cool.
(By the by, if you ever want to impress a potential employer, please ask Yerim how to apply for a job. #nailedit)
Why did we hire Yerim? To enable us to do this:
Moved to a Multi-Planner Team (i.e., Maddie Became a Lead Planner)
Maddie moved into the role of Lead Planner just in April. She has been with Flow since fall of 2019, helping us bring rigor to our work and our relationship with clients.
She was clearly ready to start leading client relationships. Not only has she been a CFP® professional for years, she has also completed the Kinder Institute 2-day and 5-day training, and is just a few months off from being a Registered Life Planner®.
I, for one, am Very Excited to finally have another Lead Planner around to bounce ideas off of. And I’m genuinely so happy for the clients she’ll be leading the relationship with because she is technically so competent and just cares so much.
Added Another Voice to the Blog
Though I am still the dominant voice on the blog, Maddie has also started contributing. The blog has been tremendously helpful for both the firm’s growth and my personal growth as a financial planner. (Really, the benefits of writing are much more profound and far-reaching than I think most people realize.) And I want all other lead planners in the firm to have that benefit, even though I don’t (at least currently) see the need for anyone else in the firm to go out there and attract new clients.
Another benefit to Maddie adding her voice to the mix is that more voices on the blog cannot help but reach a wider and more diverse community of women in their early to mid career in tech. This is intensely personal work, and Maddie will simply appeal to people I won’t. (She’s, like, waaaay nicer.)
Outsourced Functions Not Essential to Serving Clients
I’ve always had an eye on “what can I outsource?” in order to do the whole “highest and best use of my time” <cringe> thing. (And also a “I hate bookkeeping” thing.)
It became clear, especially as we became clearer on our vision for the firm, that the firm itself needed to follow the same approach. We ideally shouldn’t be doing in-house anything but that which is necessary to best serve our clients.
To that end, we now outsource:
- IT (thanks, brother!)
- Branding and design
- Compliance (the big new one for 2021). While we can’t fully outsource it, we have taken hours of work off our plate every month, and pretty much all my stress.
We plan to keep the following work in-house for the indefinite future:
- All client advice and service
- All our messaging (blog writing, social media). This is what makes Flow Flow.
“What can we outsource?” will be a continued focus.
I love love love the idea of Flow being the Distilled Essence of financial life planner-y-ness.
Speaking of Serving Clients
I’m sure most planners who work with people in their 20s-40s have an experience similar to ours at Flow:
Our clients are doing The Big Things in life all. the. time.
Getting married. Buying a home. Getting pregnant. Having a miscarriage. Having a baby. Moving. Quitting jobs. Getting diagnosed with ADHD. Going back to grad school. Changing careers. Taking a sabbatical. Getting a new job. We also guided a bewildering number of clients into significant new wealth in the last year: IPOs and tender offers and acquisitions and direct listings out the wazoo.
This last year is really no different from the previous years in this regard (except maybe the number of IPOs). But I have to mention it because THIS IS WHY WE DO THIS WORK. I believe it’s so important for us financial planners to continually come back to this thought:
Do you know, do you feel how much of an honor it is to walk with clients through these events?
Do all of us financial planners recognize the almost sacred nature of the relationship with our clients? Yes, we have to run a profitable business. But the depth of the human relationship is primary.
Looking Back Over Expectations for Year 6
In my blog post last year about Flow’s 5th birthday, I listed what I wanted to learn about in Year 6. And I did learn about them! I think, however, that the way we practice financial planning changed more because of our training in life planning and because of our experiences with clients than from any of this “book larnin’.”
Let me revisit those items now:
- Sudden Money. One of my study groups literally read the book Sudden Money and discussed it over several weeks. One of the biggest lessons I took away from it is the idea of the “Decision Free Zone” after a windfall. That is, after you get a bunch of money, Don’t Do Anything for a while. Maybe 6 months or a year! Your heart and brain need time to catch up with your money. I can’t tell you how many Airbnb employees I told, “No, really, it’s okay to have $600k in cash in your bank. We’ll figure out what to do with it…in good time.”
- Sustainable Investing. I read some papers, attended a multi-day educational seminar. And….I just can’t wrap my head around it. If we were going to move in this direction, we’d likely lean in the direction of the higher-cost investments (I can feel myself twitching Right Now, thinking about higher costs for investing) that cost more because they pay humans to do Real Work trying to change company behavior. This in contrast to the likes of Vanguard ESG ETFs, that are low-cost and entirely passive. I don’t believe much change is possible there. Adasina Social Capital wrote a great article about the low-cost ESG space.
- Cryptocurrencies. I had lots of conversations with lots of other advisors, some who were cynics/skeptics and some who were “whoo! Bitcoin!” I’m sure it’s partly because I’m old(er…hmph) and by nature conservative, but I cannot think of it, at this point in its history, as anything more than a gamble. (Gambling, in this way, can be okay! As long as you “firewall” the rest of your finances and can afford the loss.)
What I don’t know about cryptocurrency could fill a…something big. And that despite actually making an effort to understand and being fairly tech- and money-savvy. My very inability to get comfortable in my understanding is, in fact, a big red flag to me.
Here’s what I see for the seventh year of Flow. We continue to:
- Serve more women in tech, slowly and steadily.
- Focus on developing team expertise. 3 planner brains > 1 planner brain.
- Outsource work that isn’t essential to the client experience and to giving clients great guidance.
I think I observe a trend of the splintering of the professional community into various little (or not so little) tribes. Now, those tribes will always exist, and they likely each serve a very good purpose. But loyalty to those tribes is dangerously paired with what I perceive to be a loss of interest in participating in the “Big Tent” of financial planning.
I am happily a member of some of those “splinter groups.” I am just now starting to get involved in the bigger tent of the financial planning profession, and it is inspiring. I have oft searched for the intellectually rich and curious part of the community (not just the smart or successful or good-on-execution, but the people who kinda just want to think for thinking’s sake…just to see what comes out the other end…which sounds way more scatological than I intended). Having just attended FPA Retreat for the first time, I feel as if I’ve finally found that community.
I believe the profession needs both camps: the tactics/execution/practice management and the “this is the why of the work we do; the heart and soul of the profession.” I’ve only just really started thinking about this, so there’s lots I don’t know and maybe I’m wrong about. But it’s really exciting to think about getting more involved in strengthening and improving the profession.
On to Year 7! (Holy sh*t.)
Do you ever slow down and reflect on what what you’ve experience, overcome, and achieved in the last year? Not just what you still need to do? If you want to work with a financial planner who will help you appreciate the totality of you, reach out and schedule a free consultation or send us an email.
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